St-Pierre et Miquelon comprises two lumps of rock tucked beneath the wing of Newfoundland. Their existence in North America's armpit is an anomaly of the Utrecht Treaty, which carved up the 19th-century world and left St-Pierre as a corner that is forever French (with the occasional dispute about this). In the booklet Tropical France, available at the French Tourist Office in London, St-Pierre enjoys the palm-fringed company of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The catch is that the tropics are several thousand miles away: St-Pierre shares the dismal climate of Newfoundland, yet it has little to do with Canada and everything to do with Calais.
To get there, first find Fortune. This ragged little town is six hours in a minibus away from Newfoundland's capital, St John's. If you arrive on the right day, you can take a booze cruise. Carrying on the legacy of Prohibition, St-Pierre is an amateur smuggler's paradise for those in heavily taxed Newfoundland.
Everyone else on my boat was looking for rum as rough as the seas, and cigarettes whose only claim to lightness was in the duty levies, so perhaps I was the only passenger to see a bustling French town overloaded with the good things of life. The cheese boat had arrived from Cherbourg the previous day, so a certain joie de fromage permeated the place.
La mairie, une patisserie and la poste are daintily arranged around the main square as decorously as in any French port; and the absence of hypermarkets places St-Pierre in a higher sphere. You can eat, drink and - in half an hour or so - make your merry way around an island resounding with Gallic order, even as the cottages cling tenuously to rocky slopes. An independent Quebec would have much to live up to.
Simon CalderReuse content